10 Past Cisco Acquisitions Considered1:32 PM EST Mon. Apr. 19, 2010
Since 2000, Cisco has acquired more than 80 companies, continuing right along with a streak of acquisitions that's gone largely unabated since 1993. Some acquisitions have obviously borne more fruit for Cisco than others: a range of major jewels versus footnotes. Here, we take a look back at some of the big plays Cisco made in the past decade.
Will Tandberg -- which Cisco bought Monday -- be remembered as a pivotal, game-changing acquisition for Cisco like several of the following were? Or will it be merely a footnote in the grand scheme of things: just one more company added to the belt of an IT titan famous for its hungry, hungry M&A appetite? Given the opportunities for video and Cisco's intent to dominate each and every one of them, we're thinking it's the former.
One of Cisco's first heavyweight pick ups of the decade was a sign of the times: Web content management was hot stuff, and Internet switch maker ArrowPoint was a bolt of lightning, a three-year-old startup whose stock price tripled during the opening day of its IPO. At the time, some observers chided Cisco for overpaying -- a suggestion, many held, that its own Web traffic and load balancing products just weren't getting the job done. But ArrowPoint was also a company whose principal competitors at the time, Alteon and F5 Networks, were forced to admit that they'd now face a much deadlier adversary in ArrowPoint with Cisco's machine behind it. Cisco eyeing a hot market where it doesn't have a comprehensive offering, validating the growth of that market with a big purchase, and throwing a scare into competitors who believe themselves tough enough? Cisco's rewriting that story again with Tandberg, 10 years later.
When did Cisco become a player in storage? Most observers would point to its acquisition of Andiamo Systems, a California startup that developed Fibre Channel switches. Cisco had invested heavily in the company a year before it pulled the trigger on an acquisition, but when plans were confirmed and Cisco came to market with a new family of storage switches almost immediately, it threw a scare into McData, Brocade and other then-leaders in the space. In the years following, Cisco continued to snap up storage and data networking companies like Actona Technologies (June 2004), NeoPath (March 2007) and Nuova Systems (April 2008). In 2009, Cisco introduced the Unified Computing System (UCS), which seeks to combine computing, storage, networking and virtualization capabilities into a single package, and whose networking knitting bears Cisco's Fibre Channel fingerprints.
To say Cisco's Linksys pick up gave it a firm foothold in the home networking and consumer-grade networking products segment is putting it all-too-mildly: Linksys was spreading like wildfire at the time of the acquisition, claiming shelf space in a who's who of the country's major electronics retailers. There was concern at the time that Cisco's inexperience running a consumer products company would come back to bite it, but Linksys has remained an important piece of the Cisco portfolio, and a driver for Cisco's plans to grow its consumer business by as much as $10 billion over the next few years. These days, the Linksys name applies only to consumer-grade products sold mostly through retailers; more sophisticated products were rebranded in recent years as Linksys by Cisco, and for the most part are now fully branded as Cisco.
If it wasn't the acquisition that thrust Cisco headlong into wireless LAN dominance, it certainly helped Cisco plug holes in its wireless product portfolio for midsized enterprises. Five years back, Airespace rose to popularity on the back of "thin" architectures, or, network intelligence centralized on a WLAN switch and combined with as few access points as possible. Cisco, until that point, had pushed the more traditional WLAN architecture of the intelligence being on the APs themselves, or so-called "fat" APs. With Cisco now the market leader in WLAN, it's tough to argue against Airespace has having worked out in its favor.
At $6.9 billion, Scientific Atlanta remains Cisco's largest-ever acquisition by transaction amount, and at the time, it was seen as helping Cisco expands its horizons toward consumer and home networking markets. It didn't seem to help Cisco right off the bat, but was prescient all the same: set-top boxes haven't gone away, and a need for video services have blurred the lines between what constitutes consumer-centric video services and what constitutes enterprise or commercial-centric video services. One of the most significant developments around the Scientific Atlanta acquisition actually came more than four years later. In February 2010, Tech Data opened distribution of many of the products Cisco gained through the acquisition as part of Tech Data's Cisco Service Provider Technology Group portfolio, marking the first time many Scientific Atlanta partners were able to access those products through two-tier distribution.
At the time it was announced, Cisco's plan to buy mobile software vendor orative was met with excitement for the possibilities it created around tying mobile communications to Cisco VoIP and UC offerings. Was it a game-changer? Probably not, but it certainly didn't hurt Cisco's continued refinement of its mobile infrastructure strategy. It also kept Cisco ahead of the game in a time when a number of UC competitors, including Avaya and Microsoft, were also making acquisitions and bolstering their UC portfolios.
Perhaps Cisco's most significant acquisition of recent years, WebEx's suite of on-demand collaboration, Web conferencing and videoconferencing applications -- including Meeting Center and WebEx Connect -- have become showpiece products in Cisco's collaboration portfolio, spreading beyond desktop applications to mobile devices, including, most recently, the iPad. If asked to identify a single acquisition from the past decade that shifted Cisco's collaboration strategy into high gear, most observers would point to this one, especially since Cisco has continued to release new collaboration products -- from hosted e-mail to B2B IP communications platforms -- at a rapid clip.
Some years ago, WiMAX became a hot hand in networking technology, and Cisco decided it wasn't going to sit on the sidelines, buying wireless startup Navini Networks and gaining traction in the growing market for broadband wireless services. Broadband access hasn't exactly cooled off in the succeeding years, thanks to the advent of 4G wireless -- and the ensuing debate between standards-based WiMAX and proprietary Long Term Evolution -- and the heated national debate over how to supplying high-speed Internet to more Americans, more efficiently. How much Navini has added to Cisco's bottom line is hard to determine, but it has placed Cisco among the elite players in WiMax, especially after it struck a deal with Clearwire in May 2009 to become the next-generation network core infrastructure provider for Clearwire's national 4G
August and September, 2008
These two small acquisitions came right on top of each other as summer turned to fall in 2008, but it wasn't until a year later that Cisco's plans for each -- PostPath an e-mail and calendaring platform, Jabber a presence systems platform -- came into focus. In November 2009, Cisco unveiled more than 60 new products and services in its UC and collaboration portfolios, among them Cisco WebEx Mail, which is Cisco's first-ever hosted e-mail product.
Cisco's pickup of Pure Digital, maker of the Flip video camera, might have seemed strange at the time, but in the year since, it's seemed more and more fitting as Cisco's consumer strategy has come into focus. Not only is the consumer market among the "30 adjacencies" John Chambers so often describes as great opportunities for Cisco, but in the Flip -- and its subsequent HD and now sliding-screen versions -- Cisco has a single, affordable product it can point to as both unique and popular. Plus, Cisco said it's taking a number of "simple design" cues from the Pure Digital team in how it approaches consumer and SOHO-grade products going forward, as seen in its recently released Cisco Valet wireless routers.
What was the most significant of the last 10 years' worth of CIsco's acquisitions, and why? Leave a comment in the ChannelWeb Connect community and let us know your thoughts.